Stark fall in three Rs standards among children in Essex ‘a desperate worry’

A drop in basic reading, writing and maths standards among young children in Essex has been described as ‘a desperate worry’ as the county council pledges to support families through its network of libraries.

As many as 42 per cent of students were found not to be meeting the expected standard in writing at key stage 1 for 2021/22. That was up from 31 per cent in 2019.

The percentage of pupils failing to meet the expected standards in reading stood at 33 per cent in 2021/22 – up from 25 per cent in 2019. The numbers failing to meet the expected standards in maths went up from 24 per cent to 32 per cent.

These were the first key stage 1 attainment statistics since 2019, after assessments were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid.

Councillor Aidan McGurran (Lab, Pitsea) told Essex County Council’s people and families scrutiny committee on January 11: “It’s not surprising there has been a fall after what we’ve been through but those figures are quite worrying. We know also that those affected most severely are the more economically disadvantaged as well.

“I’m not having a go at the library service, because it is playing a positive part in this, but we do need to talk to various partner organisations to have a look at this and how it compares to other regions and what we can do to turn it round as quickly as possible because that is a desperate worry.

“If kids are starting their education like that, particularly from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, it doesn’t bode well for the future.”

Essex County Council says working to improve literacy for both children and adults is a priority and is a key pillar of its vision for the library service over the next four years.

This includes creating literacy areas, literacy support sessions, targeted support for Levelling Up areas and providing community connectors to deliver some of the literacy sessions in local libraries.

Cabinet member responsible for libraries Councillor Louise McKinlay said: “I have extensive conversations with reception class teachers in my own ward and the stories they tell me about children turning up to school at the first day, not just in core literacy but their ability to begin to learn, are stark.

“This is why we have this as one of the core pillars of the plan to make sure as a service we are playing a part and to go full circle. That is why we have to make sure we do have the whereabouts and ability to deliver and make a difference.

“That is why we have created the post of community connectors and training them up to deliver some of the literacy sessions in local libraries to make sure we are reaching out as much as we can.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter